16 Jun 2011

Flights expected to resume on Friday

10:18 pm on 16 June 2011

Air New Zealand, Qantas and Jetstar all expect to be flying again on Friday in a major easing of travel disruption.

Since Sunday, airlines have grounded hundreds of flights because of ash from an erupting volcano in Chile affecting thousands of passengers.

However, New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority warns the clear skies may not last. It says although the ash plumes are moving away, more are lining up and could be back within a matter of days.

Air New Zealand says it expects to operate almost all domestic and trans-Tasman services from Friday morning.

Domestic services to and from Queenstown are cancelled until midday, pending further ash forecasts from MetService.

Qantas says it will resume flights to and from Auckland and Queenstown from 6am on Friday, and Wellington from midday. Services to and from Christchurch remain suspended and subject to further review.

Budget offshoot Jetstar will also resume its domestic and trans-Tasman services for Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. However, services in and out of Christchurch for Friday morning remain cancelled.

The BBC reports that experts monitoring the Puyehue volcano in Chile believe its eruption is likely to grow more violent in coming days.

The volcano began erupting on 4 June and has caused levels of flight disruption not seen since an Icelandic volcano paralysed Europe in 2010.

Air NZ apologises over cancelled flights

Air New Zealand had been operating flights as normal until Wednesday night when it began cancelling some services after the ash cloud was pushed down over the lower South Island at a level of 10,000 feet.

The national carrier has apologised to customers frustrated by late cancellations on Thursday, but says it is trying to give everyone the best chance of flying.

On Thursday morning all its domestic flights to and from Invercargill, Dunedin, Queenstown and Christchurch were cancelled, angering some travellers unaware of the situation until they got to the airport.

Air New Zealand had to cancel more flights in the evening because the earlier disruption meant some planes were not at the airports they were meant to fly from.

General manager of airline operations David Morgan says in some cases, information from MetService is not available until minutes before a scheduled flight.

Captain Morgan says some decisions are deliberately left until the last minute when all information is at hand, rather than simply cancelling flights for a whole day.

Pacific Blue, Jetstar and Qantas cancelled flights in, out, and around New Zealand for the rest of Thursday.

Old DC3 takes to the skies

A World War II veteran was brought out of retirement to help stranded passengers.

The privately-owned 28-seat DC3 first flew in 1944 for the US Air Force and is usually used for charity purposes and as a display at the Ashburton Aviation Museum.

One of its pilots, Jim Dunne, says the plane is also ideally suited for flying under ash cloud covering Christchurch.

The plane ferried stranded passengers between Christchurch and Wellington on Thursday.